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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: In a grueling rescue, South County heroes showed true grit

Between late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning last week, most folks in the Berkshires were hunkered down in their homes while a once-in-a-decade snowstorm raged outside. Not so for a handful of emergency responders who literally marched directly into those deadly conditions to save two hikers who were stranded in Mount Washington State Forest.

When one of the hikers called 911 after the pummeling snowfall and gathering darkness obscured the Alander Mountain Trail markings, heroes among us sprung into action. Dispatchers forwarded the emergency call to state police in Lee around 8 p.m. At this point, some parts of Berkshire County had more than a foot of snow and counting. Mount Washington, at higher elevation, was buried even deeper. In fact, the two feet of snow on the ground was too deep even for the rescue crew’s snowmobiles. With precious time running out and conditions only worsening, the rescuers had to proceed on foot.

Out here in the Berkshires, we like to think we know a thing or two about rugged determination in the face of winter’s might. But few can imagine, much less summon, the toughness required to walk two-and-a-half hours through a forest blanketed in two feet of snow with gear on your back and lives on the line — and then hoof it back the way you came with two rescued hikers.

Two troopers from the State Police Special Emergency Response Team, three Sheffield firefighters and a ranger from the Department of Conservation and Recreation did just that. They deserve more than three cheers for rising to the occasion, as does the entire team behind the operation.

State forest rangers and dispatchers plotted the coordinates of the hikers’ location; rescue teams set up a command post at the Egremont fire station; National Grid and Egremont road crews cleared downed trees and power lines that littered the forest trail entrance; other responding units included state police, Berkshire County Sheriff’s dispatchers, DCR staff and firefighters from Sheffield and Egremont.

When the stakes and obstacles were perilously high, these folks responded superheroically. They shouldn’t have had to. It’s a tremendously bad idea to trek up a remote trail toward a mountaintop cabin just as a widely predicted nor’easter is set to clobber the area. That ought to go without saying, but this near-tragedy is a lesson in the increased necessity to be smart in a storm: You aren’t just playing with your own life. These hikers not only endangered themselves but risked the lives and taxed the resources of emergency responders already dealing with a weather emergency that imperiled thousands of others who did not foolishly seek out more risk.

We were not happy to hear that South County safety officials were tasked with such an untimely and unsafe mission, but we were very happy to hear that it was a success, with the hikers and their intrepid rescuers escaping without serious injury from such a dangerous situation. At the darkest hour in the toughest conditions, these emergency responders embodied the grit and bravery that we sometimes ask of our small-town, rural public safety workers when danger looms and duty calls.

Last week, that call beckoned from within a storm that could stop a snowmobile in its tracks — but it couldn’t stop these rescuers. For that, they have our sincere gratitude.

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